May 25, 2019

Speech by Ambassador Klosson in Astoria

Let me start with a slightly different spot in the way Phil and Peter and Savvas have set this up because I really want to share with you a slightly different perspective to begin with and then we will do the other one. Too often this whole issue is Cyprus and the word that immediately follows Cyprus 99% of the time is ‘problem’. And I don’t want to start it there.

Bilateral relations

I want to start with the fact that Cyprus is now joining the EU and what does that mean for Americans, what does that mean for us. What it means is that Cyprus is not only joining Europe , it is also joining the Transatlantic Partnership and therefore Cyprus is not only getting new opportunities from our perspective, it is getting new responsibilities as well. And so although the Embassy spends an enormous amount of time trying to promote a settlement we also do other things and there’s four other priorities that I think as Americans I’d like you to be aware of.

One we count on Cyprus to step up to the plate particularly now as a member of the EU, now until May it has a voice in the EU and after May it will have a vote. And this makes Cyprus more important to the United States . One of those areas is the war on terrorism and efforts to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And we have been very happy with the kind of cooperation we’ve seen since 9/11 on this issue. In the time that I’ve been there, one of the important things that happened particularly in connection with Operation Iraqi Freedom is that the Government of Cyprus granted military over flight rights for our aircrafts that were part of this operation. That’s important, that’s stepping up to responsibilities. More recently there was a Donor’s Conference in Spain last October and again Cyprus – normally the government does not have a tradition in doing this type of thing – they sent a delegation to the Conference, they’ve made a pledge so they were being counted as part of the international community that says “we’ve got to make Iraq a better place because that will make the world a better place”. The same with the proliferation issue. We’ve been working with them again on a couple of initiatives that were part of this international effort to make us all safer. Cyprus is not just the Cyprus issue, Cyprus is now a player in these kinds of issues and when we bring these to the Government we are having a much more vigorous and cooperative discussion with them.

Second area is law enforcement cooperation and there again there’s very good news over the past year. Very recently for example there was a US dollar counterfeiting operation that was taken down in Greece though cooperation with the Cypriot Police, Greek policy and American Authorities. One of the issues that’s kind of coming into focus in the States is Trafficking in Persons and this is a terrible issue but it’s only through cooperation from all the governments who potentially are affected (there were countries who were affected by this and we’ve got rid of it), and this is again the kind of issue that we are looking to the Government of Cyprus to cooperate on. There’s a whole range of foreign policy issues that we bring up to Cyprus now that they are a member of the EU and I think the diplomats and the foreign ministry as well as other ministries around town are certainly learning that there’s a huge agenda out there which they are having to master but I think things are going pretty well.

And finally there’s a large commercial and business agenda and I know some of you are doing business in Cyprus and if you need our help, come to Embassy and that’s what we are there for. The door is open and we are very eager to assist American companies if they need help in Cyprus . There’s a good economic relationship already. We are the seventh largest supplier and we’d like to make it even better.

Cyprus Issue

Now to the Cyprus issue. Phil and Peter and Savvas have talked about this being a very critical period. I think it is. I am not going to predict that this is the year of Cyprus but I really do think that this the time when people like me and other people who are a lot more important than me such as the President, are really putting their shoulder to this task in order to see serious movement. I think that Europe which has been a catalyst to the extent that we’ve seen progress in recent years, remains a catalyst. I think the movement that we’ve seen in the EU last month reiterated that it very much wants to see a reunited Cyprus to join the EU in May. We are certainly seeing how the Turkish Cypriots are very anxious to go through the door and in the case of Greek Cypriots it seems to me that now there’s no longer the anxiety, about maybe somehow the accession being delayed, that there’s actually some renewed sense of confidence. And it’s this sense of confidence actually that can contribute to the settlement process. And then finally Turkey also, this Turkish Government has made accession to the EU a top priority.

Our interests, the American interests, we have very important stakes in the Cyprus settlement and some of them have already been discussed. Certainly we want to see a Cyprus where all the people who live on the island will benefit and that sort of solution we can bring about. You have Cypriots across the island who will benefit economically and culturally and politically. Certainly a Cyprus settlement also resolves differences between Greece and Turkey which could very much complicate NATO organization;  we are increasingly looking into the type of even broader tasks around the globe and obviously a Cyprus settlement would also, as the EU has publicly stated, facilitate Turkey’s European aspirations. So when you add all that up, it’s very much like a win-win all the way around. From our perspective that brings peace and stability and prosperity in that critical region in Europe .

It seems to me from my perspective on the island that we’ve seen a number of developments over the last year or so which sort of push in the right direction. One of them is the UN proposal which has been developed and we were all disappointed that we didn’t get to a settlement last March and I was in The Hague with my good friend Tom Weston who I am sure you all know. We are all very disappointed that it was the Turkish Cypriot side that blocked that from coming to a successful conclusion but nevertheless this is a very comprehensive plan that can be further improved, but there’s an enormous amount of good work that has gone into it, and it’s on the table in a way that previous UN proposals had been less fleshed out (the Set of Ideas and things like that). This is a plan that after some further discussion and negotiation could be put to a vote. So that’s a positive thing that’s out there.

The second positive thing I think, and those of you that have been to Cyprus over the last year will appreciate this is the fact that its now easier to go north and south across the buffer zone and you’ve had well over 2 million crossings of people. I think that has had a very positive impact overall on the island. What you have, what I have sensed from talking to both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots on the island now, is a sense that they can put a face on the other side and the idea of a settlement is no longer something that is simply a dream, or something left to ones imagination. There is something more concrete and more palpable since you can actually interact with folks and politicians have gone back and forth, particularly leaders of Chambers of Commerce have gone back and forth. There is an organization created with the US getting involved at all, composed of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots and it’s focused on a solution that you can midwife by the fact that you can actually get together having controversies over passed and things like that. So I think the fact that there has been this increased interaction and importantly without any intercommunal issue or problem. There has been no incident and that’s remarkable when you think about the years of separation that have taken place. The fact that its well over well over 2 million crossings, that makes the idea of a settlement much more concrete and much more real to everybody, people are talking about this.

I would say the third thing that helps really is the political format that we’ve seen in the north. Last Fall about this time, in the early winter we saw demonstrations in the northern part of Nicosia in sort of unprecedented numbers. Huge numbers of Turkish Cypriots were in the streets calling for a solution, those voices calling for a solution were carried forward into the ballot box for that vote that took place last month. It was a vote for a solution. I think the final result was a split, apparently an even split in the seats but I think if you look at the trend line what you see is that those favoring a solution are on the way up and those parties that are opposed to the UN plan went down. The established parties that campaigned against the UN plan lost between a third and half their support. The pro-solution parties which were favoring the UN Plan, they increased their vote count by about 70% and doubled their number of seats in their assemblies. This was very much a vote for a solution, what really drove it home for me was the fact that in some of the areas which were going to return to Greek Cypriot administration, even in some of those areas such as Morphou, and I know some people come from Morphou this evening, some of those areas the majority voted in favor of solution knowing they would have to move. That’s a vote of hope over the kind of fear, the themes of fear that we saw during the election campaign. It was a difficult period, the embassy spent a lot of time monitoring this and trying to help people understand what was in the end in UN proposal and what wasn’t. We certainly has a lot of reliable reports about politically motivated hirings and firings by the government, reports of vote buying and voter intimidation, pressure on the media, manipulation of citizenship rules and voter administration rules. There is no doubt, there are very reliable reports of that activity. So it’s all the more remarkable the way the vote went, given the pressures that a lot of the voters were subjected to. But I think those three elements: the Annan plan, the fact that there has been a great increase in interaction, plus the political field in the north are developments that are pushing in the right direction.

So were does that leave us? Where it essentially leaves us is with UN Secretary General’s Good Offices Mission and the Plan. I think what you have if you look at it all together, is you have the UN, which as I said can be further improved through negotiation, you have a viable structure and you can place that on the foundation of recently confirmed good will, that’s what all these crossings add up to. So the way forward is to get the negotiations restarted and that’s what we are working on. The Secretary General after the negotiations stopped last March said he was prepared to make available the Good Offices Mission again and help the parties bring his proposal to a successful conclusion, which means putting it to a vote in a referendum. But he needed to be assured of the political commitment being there. So what he has said is that he needs all of the parties demonstrating necessary political commitment in order for the UN Good Offices Mission to resume and negotiations to start up. He has defined that as that the parties have to commit to finalize the Plan and put it to a referendum by a certain date and negotiations would then be in that kind of framework. What the US and others are trying to do is encourage the parties to make a commitment so that we can get these negotiations under way. I think what you can say is that the solution is certainly possible by May 1st but it’s going to take commitment on the part of the political leaders in order to make that happen. So that’s what we are trying to encourage from the political leaders both on and off the island. It is a complicated issue to get that necessary political commitment.

UN Talks

I think if you look back on the UN talks a couple of things become clear:  one is that no solution can be imposed and the UN framework does not impose a solution, its probably the most democratic framework there is because at the end of the day a solution only comes about if a majority of people both on the Turkish-Cypriot side sand on the Greek-Cypriot side vote in favor of that solution. But I think it’s pretty clear that neither side can force a solution on the other. In fact if you think about it, I don’t think that kind of solution would be terribly good and I would question how sustainable it would be.

I think the second point is that the longer the problem goes on unresolved, the more costly it becomes. It’s very clear the kind of costs Turkish-Cypriots are bearing because of a non-solution. I think President Papadopoulos has been increasingly identifying some of the difficulties that he and Greek-Cypriots will face if a divided Cyprus goes into the European Union. He’s been talking and other Greek-Cypriot leaders have been talking about the danger that what is now a buffer zone could take on a more formal character. This is something that they very much don’t want to see. If you are in the European Union as a member and this becomes an additional complication that you would like to avoid.

A third point, is property. I spent a lot of the Fall in the north talking with all kinds of Turkish-Cypriots across the spectrum and what I was picking up was a sense that if there’s no real prospect then it may well be, as some of the kids already have done, they go away to school and sometimes don’t come back, but what I was hearing in some ways was that some of the parents would also then want to leave. As they are considered citizens of the Republic of Cyprus they would then come south and take advantage and use the Greek-Cypriot courts, the Republic of Cyprus courts to try to get at least compensation for their property. So I think this again is an issue recognized by a number of the Greek Cypriot political leaders. So there are complications if the Cyprus solution, if the Cyprus problem does not get resolved, even with Cyprus as a member of the EU.

So let me just leave you that I really do think that a Cyprus solution is possible, it’s up to the leaders to seize this moment or I’m afraid it will pass, but the US will remain very active in trying to help everybody as this could be the year of Cyprus.